“Hey, I think he’s waking up.”
“Yeah? Let me see”.
I tried to open my eyes but the lids felt too heavy; giving up, I let out an uncomfortable groan.
“Barn, go get Max!” I heard the slapping noise of rubber soled shoes on the tiles, followed by the gentle swishing of a door. I tried again to open my eyes and this time I just about managed it. A large cheerful smile loomed over me.
“Don’t try to talk Charlie, just lie still, yeah? Max is coming to take a look at you”. The Smile said softly.
I vaguely recognised the voice, but it was only as The Smile moved further away and became a whole person that my brain kicked into gear enough to match a name to it.
“Chloe?” I asked, but it came out as little more than a weak breath muffled by the mask that I could feel pressing onto my face.
“I said don’t try to talk Charlie, honestly you make a terrible patient!” She buzzed around me; checking the monitors and the leads that were stuck all over my bare chest.
I tried to make sense of the situation but my thoughts were far too jumbled and it was difficult to breathe, like something large had sat itself on my chest and was refusing to budge. I felt light-headed and my mouth was dry.
Chloe lifted the backboard of the trolley a little so I could see around me better. Even after I recognised Chloe it still took a while to recognise that I was lying on a trolley in resusc, but I still didn’t have the faintest idea why, or how I’d got there.
My thoughts were interrupted by another voice, this time a man’s. He strolled toward me and as he got closer I saw that it was Max.
“Charlie! Good to see you back with us.” He said in an overly chirpy manner. He checked the same monitors that Chloe had just looked at and nodded approvingly,
“Well, all that looks good, how d’you feel?”
I wanted to tell him that I felt like I’d just been mown down by a stampeding herd of elephants. That I felt weak, tired, confused and had a bit of a headache. I just couldn’t muster up the strength though.
“Rough”. I settled for.
“Not surprising. You’ve had what we doctors call a heart attack, mate. You remember anything about it?”
I lifted my hand and tried to remove the mask off my face but the pulse monitor clipped to my finger got in the way.
“Hey, leave that alone you!” Chloe said, repositioning it and pulling it tighter too.
“OK, how about I jog your memory? Yeah? We found you about half an hour ago slumped in the gent’s. I can tell you it gave us all a bit of a scare”.
That jogged something in my mind, the toilets, Leona, I collapsed and then… I furrowed my brow as I tried to recall what happened next. Max and Chloe lent over me looking concerned.
“Charlie..?” He said in a tone approaching nervousness.
“I was somewhere else…” I breathed.
“Yeah, the gent’s, then we wheeled you in here”. He said slowly as if talking to a child.
I shook my head as viciously as I could manage; that wasn’t what I had meant at all.
I forced myself to think harder, and only one word reverberated around my head: “Duffy”
I could hear the heart monitor bleeping rapidly in the background, Max was shouting at Chloe to get something, but all I could think was that I had to get up, I had to find Duffy, help her, save her.
I brought my hand up again in a vain effort to untangle myself from the machinery. Before I managed it I felt someone pushing it firmly back to the side of me, and a weird sensation in my left arm. The bleeping slowed again and my head fell back against the trolley.
“Charlie don’t do that again, eh mate!”
“Duffy!” I tried to call out again, louder this time but far more subdued than I wanted it to.
“Duffy, she’s dying, she’s… she’s hurt”. Max and Chloe exchanged confused glances with each other.
“Duffy? Duffy’s fine Charlie, she’s on her way”. Chloe said as straightened my mask once more.
“B-b-but?” I stuttered.
“Honestly Charlie she’s fine. It’s you we’re all worried about.”
“But she was hurt! She was… she was…”
“She was what Charlie?” Max chipped in.
“Hit by a van” I panted, confused.
“When was that?” He said softly in a voice that I’m sure he reserved for humouring people.
“Just now. No, wait, it was… before…um, eighty-six” I said, only realising once the words were out how strange it must have sounded.
“Eighty-six? What nineteen eight-six? Charlie that was fourteen years ago?” The worried glances that he and Chloe were still swapping intensified.
“I know, I know, except I was there just now!”
“No Charlie, you weren’t. You’re just a bit confused after the MI.” He replied in his patronising voice. Chloe smiled awkwardly at me as she nodded to what he’d said.
“But I was there!” I pleaded. I must have been, it was all so real.
“It was probably just a dream, a nightmare by the sound of it”. Chloe added.
“Yes that’s bound to be it…”
“Charlie”, he cut me off, “You went into the toilets, you had a heart attack, we brought you in here. Trust me, you’ve been no where else”.
He sounded so sure. So positive that he was right. A dream would certainly make more sense than time travelling, but if it had been a dream it was like no dream I’d ever had before. It had been so vivid, so intense.
I closed my eyes to block out the harsh glare of resus, and remembered it in detail. Usually my dreams fade as soon as I open my eyes but this lingered the way a memory would. I could relive it second by second, word by word.
If it was all a dream then my subconscious had a lot of explaining to do, as I had a clear recollection of my time with Duffy, everything we said, everything we did, her caressing touch, the passion between us. If that wasn’t real, if I’d made all that up, I couldn’t stand it. Seeing her everyday as a friend, knowing that she was married to someone else and not being able to do anything about it.
Then another thought struck me, if it was a dream and none of it was true then I was still with Baz, still in an empty relationship. Perhaps the dream was my subconscious’s way of telling me the it was time to end things with Baz, but if that was the case it had cruelly awakened my feelings for Duffy in the process.
I clung on to the only consolation I could find, that if my dream was a dream then Duffy wasn’t hurt and at least her life could continue along it’s way.
I sighed heavily as I lay in the middle of the room, and felt the light touch of a hand on my shoulder.
“Is there anything I can get you Charlie?” Chloe asked gently.
I remained motionless, “No”.
“Are you OK?”
“Not really”. It didn’t seem worth going into more detail than that. She’d probably think I was insane anyway. I heard the swish of the doors again, but didn’t even bother to look.
“Hey”, Chloe started up again enthusiastically, “This’ll cheer you up, your wife is here!”
It didn’t cheer me up in the least. How was I supposed to face Baz, when all I could think about was Duffy. Footsteps came toward me and I felt a warm hand resting on the top of my head.
“Oh my God, Charlie…” At the sound of her voice I opened my eyes and stared in disbelief.
“Duffy?” My wife? My wife!
“Well who else?” She smiled warmly at me, I smiled back, though I’m not sure she could tell from the other side of the mask, “Darling, I have been so worried about you! Honestly, I have one day away from this place and look what happens! I tried to get here sooner but the traffic was terrible… How are you?” She gushed.
“Much better now” I replied from my daze.
“Max, how is he?” She didn’t turn away from me ask and I drunk in her features as if it was the first time I’d ever seen her.
“If he does as he’s told he’ll be fine”.
“Really. In fact I think he can do without my presence for a minute or two…” He nodded to us each in turn then turned to leave. Just as he reached the door he stopped and turned round again, “Chloe, you coming?”
“What? Nah… what? Oh, oh yeah, I’m coming. See you guys later!” And then as she crashed through the doors, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do while we’re gone!”
“Even though that gives us plenty of scope I’m not sure that it’s a good idea the state you’re in” Duffy perched carefully on the edge of the trolley as she spoke.
“I’m willing to risk it!” Although she was, unfortunately, quite right.
She removed the mask for just long enough to kiss me on the lips, “That’ll have to do you for now”.
It was a strange feeling, but the longer she sat with me the less out of place she seemed. Calling her my wife seemed perfectly normal to me. She took my hand and I squeezed hers as tightly as I could manage, feeling the smooth wedding band around her finger.
I couldn’t see it but I could picture it in my mind. And not only the ring itself but the shop that we’d chosen it from, the moment that I’d taken it and placed it on her finger, the time she lost it down the kitchen sink and we’d had to call a plumber out to recover it.
And that wasn’t all. I searched the new memories for other information and found two cheerful young faces.
“Bobby and Jessica…”
“Are with Mum, I didn’t want to bring them in until I knew just what was wrong, but first thing in the morning I’ll bring them in to see you. Promise.”
“We really are married” I whispered.
“What did you say Charlie?” She frowned, possibly unsure if she’d heard right.
“I’m glad you’re here”. I said a bit louder. She kissed my forehead.
“Returning the favour!” She answered, I must have looked very confused, because then she elaborated, “You sat with me after I got hit by that van all those years ago, so now it’s my turn to sit with you.”
So it really had all happened the way I thought it had. “The van” I reiterated, nodding slightly to show I understood.
“Weeks it took me to get better after that, and I still can’t remember how it happened in the first place, but you were there. You looked after me the whole time, so it’s only fair I should do the same now!” She laughed a gentle laugh that reminded me of her when she was younger, but then I’d changed things, hadn’t I? And she hadn’t had to face the same things as before.
She drew in closer to me and I made the effort of wrapping my arms around her. Nothing ever felt quite so right before. The two of us. Together. Our second chance.